The geomorphology of home

Michael Loso
Alaska Pacific University
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In this lab, students read and interpret 1) peer-reviewed literature, 2) LIDAR-derived hillshade maps, and 3) the landscape itself to better understand the geomorphology of their local urban/suburban environment (in this case, a glacier foreland).

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This activity is used in an upper-division geomorphology course that includes many non-Earth Science majors. A shorter version of it could be used in introductory Earth Science or even natural science courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

1) Basic Quaternary climate history
2) Basic map reading skills
3) Processes and landforms of glacial/periglacial landscapes

How the activity is situated in the course

This lab usually occurs late in the term, during early winter when fieldwork of a more intensive nature (with sampling, for example) is impractical. It follows lectures in glacial/periglacial processes, and requires pre-assignment of the required reading. The lab requires two sessions.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary content goals are for students to:
1) relate glacial / periglacial processes to recognizable landforms
2) use primary literature, cross-cutting relationships, and landscape maturity to understand the timing, sequence, and consequences of late Quaternary deglaciation
3) recognize the ephemeral nature of periglacial hydrologic processes
4) recognize the landforms produced by coseismic mass wasting
5) read and interpret maps, especially those based on LIDAR data

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The features prevalent in this landscape are time-transgressive, and the primary intellectual challenge of this lab is placing static landscape features in a time-ordered sequence. Secondarily, the students are challenged to compare the sometimes complementary and sometimes competing effects of isostatic, eustatic, and tectonic sea level changes.

Other skills goals for this activity

An important goal is development of skill and (yes) patience in the reading of primary literature. This lab developed out of my recognition that students gained little understanding from simply reading a paper about the Anchorage landscape's geomorphology. Using that reading to draw maps and design a field trip has proven much more successful.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students prepare for this two session lab by reading a lengthy peer-reviewed article (Schmoll et al, 1999) about the Geomorphology of Anchorage. No coaching is provided for this reading assignment, but students have experience reading and discussing such articles from earlier in the course and are expected to write a brief overview of the article (with outstanding questions) prior to class. Major concepts important for understanding the article have already been covered in lecture and/or lab: glacial geology, Quaternary climate, isostasy, and southern Alaska tectonics. In the first (indoor) lab session, students (many of whom are from out of state and are thus not intimately familiar even with the street layout of Anchorage, let alone its geomorphology) are guided by the instructor through an orientation to the Anchorage landscape, relating mapped cultural elements on a street map to topographic features visible on topographic maps and a hillshaded LIDAR map. They are then broken into small groups, each of which is assigned responsibility for identifying and interpreting landscape features associated with a particular section of the Schmoll article (e.g., LGM moraines or coseismic landslides). Mylar overlays allow each group to map the features directly over blown up (poster-size) sections of the LIDAR map. Each group then concludes the first lab section by presenting their results to the larger group with an explanation of pertinent processes and time relations. Each group is then assigned responsibility for preparing for a field presentation for the next week's field trip. Over the next week, small groups, on their own time, locate and visit sites in the field, refine their understanding of the processes that generated these sites through a meeting with the instructor, and coordinate with other small groups to structure a half-day field trip. In addition to presenting their results orally during the trip, each small group prepares a field trip guide for the larger group.
Designed for a geomorphology course
Has minimal/no quantitative component

Determining whether students have met the goals

1) Their written summary of the reading is evaluated for diligence and comprehension in their initial reading of the article.
2) Small group work during the first session is evaluated on the basis of student ability to identify salient landscape features and tie them, both spatially and temporally, to the interpretations provided in the article.
3) Written field trip guides are evaluated for completeness, attention to detail, and accuracy, but most importantly for evidence of synthetic thinking: the ability to place visited landscape features into the broader context of late Quaternary history and relate them to particular landscape processes.
4) Oral presentations (during field trip) are evaluated similarly, supplemented by results of impromptu quizzes by instructor.

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